Poorly run clubs don’t win flags.
In the last week, Eddie McGuire and his administration have come under heavy criticism from David Galbally, AM QC, a prominent lawyer, and former Collingwood board member from 1974–1983.
On LinkedIn, Galbally has openly slammed the club and voiced what so other many supporters have felt – and continue to feel: incredulity, indignation, and disgust at Collingwood’s “it’s not a fire sale” fire sale in the trade period.
“The Collingwood football club need a complete clean out top to bottom,” Galbally wrote in one post. “They have been there for far too long.”
In another, he lamented, “This is the worst administration in the history of the VFL and AFL. Clearly gross mismanagement. When the players were signed up someone must have thought about their resigning [sic] and the consequences of paying such large salaries. Couldn’t image any business in the western world being run so incompletely. This is an administration that has totally lost the plot and is lurching from one crisis to another.”
Some might criticise Galbally, and condemn his own record – he administrated at the club during the Hafey era, which saw Collingwood lose grand finals in 1977, 1979, 1980, and 1981, and then was part of the New Magpies hoopla.
He was gone in 1984, while the New Magpies almost bankrupted the club in 1986.
The Collingwood Rant Facebook page reposted Galbally’s criticism, inviting polarising views. One of the people who came out in support of Galbally was Richard Stremski, author of Kill For Collingwood, and also a former administrator from the late 1990s.
“As another former director, albeit from a different decade, I thoroughly endorse David Galbally’s astute comments,” Stremski writes.
“Eddie has maintained dictatorial control over the Club for 22 years and is responsible for both the good (e.g. one premiership) and the bad (millions of dollars on hotel losses, dumping Neil Balme twice so he could guide other clubs to six premierships, the present Treloar/Stephenson fiasco, the salary cap mess, etc).”
Some didn’t so much address Galbally’s and Stremski’s comments, but the individuals themselves, citing their records while they were at the club as a means of undermining their credibility. Most, however, were in widespread – if not wider spread – agreement with the criticisms.
The biggest problem with Collingwood’s trade period is that too many defenders have simplified it to the actions executed within that trade period itself.
And, looking at that in isolation – without an examination of cause – it’s easy to laud that Collingwood have been ruthless in clearing cap space so that they can get back on even standing and ruthlessly attack list management.
It stands up well as an argument if you don’t poke at it.
But it’s an argument full of misnomers that dismisses how this situation came to be.
That’s the overriding query here. Not the effect.
But the cause.
Has any other club had to salary dump to this extent?
Let’s examine Collingwood’s recent past.
From 2012 – 2017, Collingwood traded out, delisted, or retired the bulk of their 2010 premiership squad. We’re talking about weighty names such as Heath Shaw, Travis Cloke, Dale Thomas, Alan Didak, Darren Jolly, Leon Davis, Dayne Beams, Ben Johnson, Heritier Lumumba, Nick Maxwell, etc.
Add to the outgoing the free agents (Quinten Lynch, Clint Young, Jordan Russell) and trades (Jesse White, Patrick Kanrezis) acquired in this period.
Very little came in – Taylor Adams and Adam Treloar as young guns; and Jeremy Howe, although he was hardly a high-profile recruit. Of the draftees, Brodie Grundy, Jordan de Goey, and Darcy Moore, were three players picked up in this period, although they wouldn’t begin to peak and earn serious dollars until after it.
From 2014 – 2017, the Pies missed the finals.
From 2018 – 2020, they contended.
And then the salary cap burst.
Does this give anybody else pause?
And if it doesn’t, why not?
Despite losing all those players and being out of the finals for four years, it took just three years of finals (and no flags) to see Collingwood’s salary cap overflow.
Doesn’t that seem an odd equation to you?
Compare this to other clubs.
Richmond have lost players through their premiership run, but the departures have been staggered. They also picked up Tom Lynch. And, oh yeah, there’re those three flags in four years. The club remains in a strong position to contend for the next several years.
Geelong’s played in six preliminary finals in the last ten years, and managed to regularly top up with free agents and trades, as well as recruit Patrick Dangerfield, and reincorporate Gary Ablett Junior. They’ve just secured Jeremy Cameron (although, admittedly, the retirements of Ablett and Harry Taylor would help fit him in the salary cap).
West Coast have appeared in the finals since 2015, played in two grand finals, won a flag, and have kept their squad together, as well as adding Tim Kelly.
Has any other club in the competition over the last twenty years dumped players the way Collingwood has?
And, again, let’s put it in context: this is a club who’s played just three successive years of finals, hasn’t won a flag, and hasn’t secured a highly paid free agent.
The simple answer?
So how has Collingwood managed it?
Three factors seem to be at play – two specific ones, and then a general attitude.
1. The Graeme Allan Appointment
Going back to 2017, Graeme Allan was appointed football manager, allegedly with the mandate to get Collingwood into the finals to mollify growing supporter unrest.
Neil Balme was already the football manager, but Allan’s arrival pushed Balme to the outer. He resigned and took up a position at Richmond.
Allan seemed to have carte blanche with the list management. Two of his recruits were Daniel Wells and Chris Mayne, both on big contracts.
Then Allan was implicated in the scandal surrounding GWS’s Lachie Whitfield, who evaded a drug test. Allan was sanctioned and suspended for twelve months. He resigned from his position from Collingwood.
How many times here can you say, “Hmmm”?
2. The Beams Deal
Come the close of 2018, Dayne Beams talked about leaving Brisbane and returning to Collingwood. Collingwood was eager to facilitate a deal.
Brisbane traded Beams and two third-round picks for Collingwood’s first round pick (18), a third-round pick, and their 2019 first-round.
The contract was a four-year deal reportedly worth two million somehow squashed into a tight salary cap, the payments stretched over an extended period.
3. Back-ending and big contracts
By Eddie McGuire’s admission, Collingwood has been “too good” to players, and back-ended contracts and rolled them over.
Jaidyn Stephenson was reported on $600,000, and Tom Phillips on $500,000. With no disrespect intended to either, that would seem a lot for two young players – particularly Stephenson, who was just in his third year.
Collingwood also signed Brodie Grundy to a seven-year-contract (although that doesn’t actually begin until next year).
We can see Collingwood are not averse to big, unwieldly contracts that will sit like unnavigable blocks in their caps.
Every club can be forgiven for their trade misses – as long as the clubs have undertaken due diligence, their expectations are not unrealistic, and the acquisitions will not be disruptive.
When Collingwood signed Wells, he was 31 – and would be 32 when the new season began. His three-year contract was worth 1.8 million-dollars.
Wells was a champion, but his durability was growing increasingly into question. Who believed he’d play to 33, let alone 35?
Mayne got a four-year deal worth more than 2 million – a deal Buckley claimed where a few things were “mixed up”.
Mayne would play just three games in that first year as a Pie, so he would seem (for whatever reason) to be on the outer immediately with Buckley. Mayne’s father would criticise Buckley for the way he handled Chris.
Admittedly, Beams had been in good form, but there were already queries about his temperament and whether he still wanted to play football. He’d been a late withdrawal from games and had relinquished the Brisbane captaincy. He repeatedly sent out mixed messages about wanting to stay a Lion and going back to Victoria, and had earlier been linked to Essendon.
This is where we must genuinely question Collingwood’s administration.
Who made the decision to appoint Graeme Allan? Was it the committee? Or Eddie McGuire? It certainly wouldn’t seem the football department were involved given that Neil Balme would then leave. Surely the football department already knew they had an excellent football manager, and didn’t need another.
Who gave Allan the authority to make the deals he did? Did anybody oversee or sign off on those deals? Did anybody play the devil’s advocate? Nathan Buckley talked about things being “mixed up” with Chris Mayne. Was Buckley genuinely a part of that decision?
Who decided to recruit Dayne Beams to the club? Was all the due diligence performed? It’s hard to believe that it was given the red flags that must’ve surrounded Beams.
Who decided to push ahead with the deal? The committee? The football department? The president? Were the club unable to foresee how much bringing Beams in would hurt their salary cap? Did anybody simply counter on the basis of the financials that the decision was a bad idea?
People might counter that the football club is bigger than these trades, but they showcase a largesse about how Collingwood operate, if not an obliviousness to potential repercussions.
Then, finally, who decided to sign big, long contracts, and to continually backend several of them so that the salary cap became filled with financial landmines?
Did they believe a flag would excuse this management? How close did they think they were? How long did they think they would contend? Did they project how long this tactic was feasible (if it was at all)?
Did they seriously not foresee it would end this way? If not, why not, given it seems they back-ended and back-ended until the salary cap could fit no more? It’s like that drawer you throw all your junk into to get it out of sight, cramming it in, shoving it closed, until you have no idea what’s in there, the slide becomes jammed, and you have to wreck the thing to get it open again.
Should people with such an extravagant approach truly oversee the club’s contracts and salary cap if this is how they operate? Because this is a bungle. People agreed and signed off on this methodology, and it’s now blown up in the cap – and their faces.
Buckley claimed they decided to confront all the pain of getting square now, but that’s not entirely true, given they’ll be committed to Beams for two more years, and Treloar five more years, and are allegedly still paying part of the contracts of Jaidyn Stephenson and Tom Phillips.
Collingwood won’t be square for a while, and the occupation of those dollars will continue to impinge what they can offer others and free agents, and how they move forward.
Are there other big, back-ended contracts that loom threateningly in the future? It would be hard to believe that Treloar’s was the only one. Perhaps Collingwood still have the 1958 premiership team on the books, gearing them up for another tilt.
Some might want to dismiss these events as being in the past, but it’s decisions like this that have impacted Collingwood’s capacity to manage their salary cap, and which has led to this fallout – and the sort of decisions that sees Galbally (among many others) criticise Collingwood during this trade period, and query their capacity to govern proficiently.
And there’s another thing: you don’t want “competent” administration; you don’t want “efficient” administration; you want “proficient” administration – the best people running the club the best they can so it’s the best it can be.
These concerns also don’t touch upon the various Eddie McGuire gaffes, player indiscretions, on-field inconsistency, and various other issues that have repeatedly come up over the years.
Every club has missteps. Do other clubs have this many?
Some of this has become positively Trumpian – we know there’s a CV of misdeeds, but somehow it doesn’t stick or impugn those responsible.
While Galbally arguably might overstate the case about the “worst” administration, his points remain valid.
And many are saying the same thing now.
Given all this has happened, how can anybody ever blindly trust the club again?
It’s the equivalent of asking the supporters to drink the Kool-Aid.
Writer and philosopher George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Does anybody really want to go through this again?
Or is it time the supporters took ownership and asked whether the people who’ve committed this litany of mistakes are still the right people to guide this club into the future?